Mountaineers try to keep rolling, Jayhawks seek fresh start
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen wouldn’t change much about the way things have been going lately for his Mountaineers, who bounced back from a close loss in their opener to Virginia Tech with a pair of lopsided routs.
Kansas counterpart David Beaty is looking for a fresh start.
The Jayhawks have followed a season-opening win over Southeast Missouri State with back-to-back losses to Central Michigan and Ohio. And now, what a long-downtrodden program had thought would be a breakout season with bowl potential is looking a lot like so many seasons before it.
”The good thing is we’re 1-2. That’s where we’re at. There’s a bunch of teams out there that are 1-2,” Beaty said. ”Don’t make it more than it is. We’ve got a great opportunity this Saturday.”
That’s when the Mountaineers roll into town for their Big 12 opener.
”It’s a lot different,” Kansas defensive end Dorance Armstrong said. ”I don’t want to say that things are a lot more serious but they are. We’re going into Big 12 play and I think we’ll be ready.”
The Jayhawks had better be ready.
The Mountaineers, who were the first team outside the Top 25 this week, are led by prolific quarterback Will Grier and an offense that’s been on a roll. They rebounded from a 31-24 loss to the Hokies with a 56-20 blitz of East Carolina and a 59-16 win over Delaware State last weekend.
Grier is averaging more than 340 yards passing per game, just outside the top 10 nationally.
”You can say what you want to, we’ve done what we’ve supposed to these last couple of weeks,” Holgorsen said. ”We came up short in that first game, we know, but we’ve done what we’ve supposed to as a football team, as a football program, these last two weeks and we’re ready to move on.”
But while Holgorsen spoke glowingly of the progress Kansas has made under Beaty, the reality is the Mountaineers have had little trouble with Kansas. They rolled 49-0 two years ago in Lawrence and led 31-0 at halftime a year go before cruising to a 48-21 victory in Morgantown.
”We need to play our best, which is what we’re expected to do and what we’re expecting to do,” Holgorsen said. ”The same goes for them. They’re going to say the same thing. They’re going to tell their guys that this has been one that we’ve been looking forward to for a long time. So, we’ll get their absolute best this weekend, we know that.”
As the Mountaineers visit the Jayhawks, here are some key story lines:
SPEED LIMIT: The first concern Beaty listed this week was the Mountaineers’ speed, and he made a point of highlighting Justin Crawford. The running back already has 326 yards and five TDs rushing.
O-LINE SHUFFLE: Kansas swapped out Andru Tovi for Jayson Rhodes and Zach Hannon for Antione Frazier on the offensive line last week. But the Jayhawks are far from settled along their front five and there will be plenty of competition in practice this week for the starting nod.
INJURY REPORT: The Mountaineers hope to get defensive back Toyous Avery back this week, while the Jayhawks are hopeful cornerback Shaq Richmond, running back Taylor Martin and linebacker Denzel Feaster are available. They’ve already ruled defensive tackle Isa Holani out for the season with an injury, and it appears unlikely nickel back Derrick Neal will not be available.
ON THE ROAD: This will be the Mountaineers’ first true road game after facing Virginia Tech at FedEx Field in Maryland. Their last two games have been at Milan Puskar Stadium.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: West Virginia’s secondary has been shaky the last few weeks, especially when Avery has been out. The Jayhawks could exploit that with Peyton Bender, who is averaging 343.3 yards per game through the air, and speedy wide receiver Steven Sims Jr.
”We’ve shown glimpses of what we can do,” Bender said. ”There’s been times where we’ve looked really good and times where we’ve looked really bad. Like I keep saying, just need to keep building on what we have, and we just need to get more consistent each week.”
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